Good as it is to get your mates, gather around a table and throw some dice or cards around, sometimes it’s difficult to get stuff organised. In this age of technology there are many options available to people who want to get a game going though: there are many websites out there that offer the chance to play against real people or AI bots – BrettSpielWelt
both spring to mind, for example. Along with those, there are often flash versions of games on their official sites; Blokus
is a good example, as mentioned in my recent review. iPhone versions are ubiquitous as well – the App Store is teeming with conversions and adaptations of great games. Online multiplayer is a bit of a rarity, but it doesn’t stop versions of Zooloretto
being enjoyable. And don’t get me started on Words With Friends
(actually, do, it’s a brilliant Scrabble
clone that you can grab for free).
One great way of getting your fix is settling down in front of the TV with a controller in your hand and firing up your Xbox 360. While the PS3 is a great machine, it must be said that board gaming is not a well represented genre on the PlayStation Network. XBox Live Arcade is a much better proposition – there’s a fair few classics up there to play, and more to come. Dig into the Indie Games service and you’ll find yet more examples. To whet your appetite, here’s a list of five of the best on XBLA (and if you fancy a game of any of them, add me on Live; my GamerTag is Sumimasen).
Settlers of Catan:
Sun-Tzu? We're screwed! He wrote The Art of War!
The daddy of them all! The gateway classic is well adapted on 360, although I really wouldn’t bother playing against the AI. You really need to be playing Catan with mates online for one simple reason: The Trading. Once the computer opponents get it into their virtual brains what they want, they’ll cycle through the same offers of wood for sheep again and again and again. And again. With real people though, it’s a much better proposition – the interface is really easy to use, the tutorial is straightforward and graphically it’s very pleasing. Probably one of the better board games on Live.
I have no idea why I like this game so much.
It’s true – I’m an absolute junkie for Lost Cities. Probably my favourite 2-player game, it’s the story of two competing explorers going off on expeditions by playing numbered cards. Way better than it sounds, I promise. Playing in real life can be a bit of a pain for some people because it involves some pretty nasty maths, but that’s where the Live version improves the experience: it does all of the calculations for you, so even the numerically lazy can enjoy this fine game. Annoyingly it isn’t actually available on Live at the moment – it was published by Sierra Games who were recently bought out by Activision. Toys were thrown out of prams and Lost Cities was removed – it’s due to come back, though. The sooner the better.
If they forget about Farmers, punish them.
One of the best implementations of a board game on XBLA, Carcassonne was actually the first one released on the service. You can really tell that the developers love this game. It’s so easy to play, even a novice will be able to pick it up within moments – place tiles using the control stick and A, spin them with the triggers, and that’s it. The game even shows you spaces it’s fine to lay your tiles down – no mistakes here. There seems to be a decent amount of regular online opponents and the AI is pretty intelligent too, offering up a decent challenge. A nice touch is that you can also download a few of the expansions available for a small extra charge – but whoever you play with will need those expansions too, so if you’re looking for a human player to go against, make sure you’re set at the basic version.
Magic: The Gathering:
Wait until I throw out my Black Lotus.
I actually played Magic: The Gathering – Duels of The Planeswalkers (to give it the full name) before I tried out the actual CCG. In retrospect this was a pretty good call, simply because the XBLA game gives you a really simple introduction to the card game’s rules. You’re given a starter set of cards to play with, going up against a range of AI opponents – beat them and you’ll unlock new ones which you can then put into your deck. The computer characters offer up some pretty hefty challenges as you progress further into the game – this is no easy ride, especially as you near the end. You can also take it online against human opponents, but be ready to have your arse kicked – there are some scarily good players out there.
Ticket to Ride:
San Francisco to New York via Houston and Montreal. WHO'S WITH ME?
Up to five players can participate (real, AI or a mix) in Ticket to Ride – the original game is up on XBLA along with the European version, though like any expansion it’ll cost you a few extra Microsoft Points. Games can be completed pretty quickly as you don’t have the worry of tiny trains spilling out all over the place – everything is put down for you automatically, and routes and cards are very easy to select. It’s one of the more expensive offerings on the Marketplace, but it’s such a good way to play it I don’t begrudge the price.
So there you go – five ways to both hog the television and play some classic board games. If you want more, the best way is to try them out (and of course if you like them, buy them). It may not be as good as setting stuff up on your table, but they’re all good interpretations and well worth giving a try – and if you see me online, give me a shout!